We previously discussed the misplaced blame of firearm theft. In this blog I’d like to discuss the potential methods of theft mitigation.
While the previous blog was almost pure frustration with the politics that surround gun ownership, this one is an attempt to give some advice on how we, as shooters, and society in general can try and mitigate firearm theft.
There are three ways to prevent the theft of firearms – barriers, demand and consequences.
If guns are easy to steal, that is, there is little preventing their theft – more guns will be stolen. If theft requires more effort or takes longer, increasing the risk of being caught, fewer firearms will be stolen.
If you want to slow down a thief, put a bigger barrier in their way. This has been achieved in Western Australia by requiring gun safes to have thicker walls, stronger hinges and bigger locks. Dealers have also had to put extra measures in place, in the form of secondary storage, IR motion detectors CCTV cameras vibration sensors and bank vaults for handguns.
But these passive methods still only delay criminals. If a criminal knows there is only a small chance of being caught, or if they have the tools to make the theft quick and easy, they will still take the risk.
No-one meets with shady characters wearing raincoats and dark glasses in underground car parks so they can go home and inject Panadol between their toes. There is no black-market demand for cheap, over the counter medicines. But there is a black-market for unlicensed firearms, because there is a demand. Criminals who cannot acquire a firearm legally will buy one illegally.
Demand for unlicensed firearms exists within the criminal community because they are used as leverage (as all business investments are) – to protect assets; to deter opposition; to acquire other goods and services (theft, protection money and intimidation) and for status.
Take away the criminal activities and the demand for unlicensed firearms will diminish. If the demand for unlicensed firearms disappears their worth goes with it and no one will risk stealing something that is worthless. This is in the hands of those responsible for enforcing the law of the land – the Police. Reducing demand for unlicensed firearms means that the police need to adopt more proactive tactics targeting criminals – from those engaging in petty theft to organised crime groups.
Very few people steal solely for the thrill. A majority of people steal for an income – either they can’t get a job or the dole or both or they need some way to supplement their income so they can support a drug habit or gambling habit or similar. Criminals steal valuables they know there is a demand for or that they can use in other crimes – jewellery, power tools, cars or guns. They must weigh up the risk of stealing the item and using or selling it, against getting caught and the potential repercussions – Benefit vs Risk.
The larger the risk the less likely the item will be stolen. Risks include: How long will it take to steal? Will I be caught while doing it? Can I sell it once I’ve stolen it? Will I get enough money for it to be worth stealing? If I’m caught stealing it, am I likely to be punished? Will the punishment be severe?
The problem is, there rarely are any serious repercussions for those people convicted of the theft of a firearm. Less than 15% of those convicted of theft in Australia will receive any jail time at all, with a third receiving a fine. Over a quarter of offenders receive no punishment whatsoever – meaning that there is no opportunity for the justice system to rehabilitate the convicted at all. The likely punishment for stealing a firearm in Australia is so pathetic it cannot be considered a negative consequence that would deter a criminal.
So when a criminal breaks into a house and finds a gun safe, there’s almost no reason for them not to attempt to break into it. Huge rewards if they can get away with it; little repercussions if they are caught.
If politicians were serious about ridding society of unlicensed firearms, then the punishment should fit the crime. An offender shouldn’t receive the same sentence for stealing a TV as for stealing a firearm. Judges hand down sentences using guidelines set in legislation. There should be separate sentencing requirements that the judiciary need to adhere to when sentencing for firearm theft.
Mandatory sentencing for the theft of firearms should be introduced in Western Australia. Take sentencing leniency out of the hands of judges. If a criminal is found guilty of theft of a firearm, they go to jail for two years – regardless of the number of guns; regardless of the monetary value; regardless of criminal history or guilty plea or mental health. If a thief is found guilty of firearm theft and doesn’t provide any information regarding the location of the firearm (where it was stashed or who it was sold to) the sentence doubles.
For sentencing to work as a deterrent we want the criminals to have the punishment in the back of their mind – we want a criminal to make the decision not to break into a gun safe if they find one, because they know the outcome is not worth going to jail for. We want the criminals who steal firearms behind bars, where they belong.
To summarise the methods of mitigation that we can take to stop firearm theft;
Barriers: Make sure your storage meets the firearm regulations, including the correct size washers. Make sure you don’t try and hide the keys in the house. Put the safe in an inconspicuous position in your house that makes it hard to break into (in the corner of a closet). Make sure your neighbours know when you are home and when you aren’t – when you’re at work or on holidays.
Demand: The Police need to dedicate resources to ridding Western Australia of organized crime. The minister needs to know that this should be a priority for Police, rather than checking legal firearm owner’s gun safes. If Police remove those who would purchase unlicensed firearms from society, they will reduce demand for unlicensed firearms. Proactive Policing rather than Reactive. You can email the Police Minister, Michelle Roberts and let her know your thoughts.
Address: 12th Floor, Dumas House
2 Havelock Street
WEST PERTH WA 6005
Telephone: (08) 6552-6900
Fax: (08) 6552-6901
Consequence: The punishment should fit the crime. Mandatory sentencing should be introduced for criminals guilty of stealing, or the trafficking of, unlicensed firearms. This could be proposed by the Minister in charge of justice in Western Australia – the Attorney General John Quigley. Email him and stress that criminals involved in the theft or trafficking of unlicensed firearms should not be treated the same as thieves of other items. Those criminals who choose to steal firearms should be forced to serve time in jail.
Address: 5th Floor, Dumas House
2 Havelock Street
WEST PERTH WA 6005
Telephone: (08) 6552-6800
Fax: (08) 6552-6801
For decades, law abiding firearms owners have been subject to ever increasing scrutiny and restrictions. Shooters have been forced to bear the costs of a reactive administration who seem content with treating the symptoms instead of the disease. It’s time for politicians to stop pretending they care about the safety of the public. Politicians, via the police and judiciary, need to put more pressure on criminal organizations and introduce tougher sentencing for criminals involved in firearm theft.
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Please keep in mind that these are Zaine’s personal comments – they are not a reflection of the opinions of any other staff or directors of Beaton Firearms.